Banking on rental assistance for a lifeline

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (LEX 18) — Lexington-born Charles Gill has put his heart and soul into his music, and now he’s stopping it all to avoid being evicted from their apartment.

Gill and his pregnant fiancé contracted COVID-19 in December and were quarantined for two months, unable to work. Then his fiancé had a difficult birth that left them both unemployed for a month and a half. He says both setbacks left them with more than $2,000 on their rent payments.

“I’ve never had a financial situation like this until COVID. I’ve always kept my ducks in line, always paid my bills,” Gill said.

At this point, he hopes and prays that he will get funding from the city’s rental aid program to pay his back rent and that his apartment complex will accept it. So his now four-month-old child can continue to live there.

“Every time I tried to stand up, we had to deal with the apartment complex not trying to work with us, knowing we had the resources,” Gill said.

Gill struggled to navigate the application process. but hopes his apartment will remain patient until he gets all the pieces together and receives funding.

Bluegrass legal aid says he is not alone in that phase of the process. The organization, which helps low-income people with legal aid, has lent a hand to help families like Gill’s navigate the paperwork.

“We help them upload those documents and then we work with the city and Community Action to get those applications approved as quickly as possible,” said Brian Dufresne, Housing Legal Team Lead.

He says the process sometimes takes longer for some than others, but the timeline has improved a lot since the beginning.

“What we have right now with our Rental Assistance Program is that I think it’s working more efficiently than ever before,” says Dufresne. “Applications are approved within the shortest five days in some cases.”

To date, the team has helped more than 700 people complete applications for the Housing Stabilization Program, funded by the city and administered by the Community Action Council.

While they’ve helped distribute $4.1 million in aid, Dufresne says they still see landlords choosing not to participate.

“What we’re seeing is that some landlords just don’t take part in the program as a matter of course, and in others it’s on a case-by-case basis on a tenant basis,” Dufresne said.

When that happens, they contact landlords on behalf of tenants, but cannot force them to accept the program.

“There’s nothing in the program that can force landlords to accept those rental assistance funds,” Dufresne said.

He says they are trying to remind landlords about the guaranteed money. The average payment is $6,000.

To date, the program has helped more than 3,510 tenants and processed approximately $110,000 per day in payments to local landlords.

Ginny Ramsey, director and founder of Catholic Action Center, says Gill is not alone in this situation. As a longtime advocate of urban housing, she says the need for rent assistance and housing in Lexington is at a critical juncture.

“In 23 years we’ve never seen the kind of situation we’re in with inflation, with gas prices, with food prices with rent rising. It’s the tsunami for those living on the edge,” Ramsey said.

She says the biggest hurdle families currently face is accessing resources that can help them.

“They can’t unravel this maze of available services,” Ramsey says.

That’s why Ramsey restarts Catholic Action Center’s compassionate “Save Their Homes” advocates. They have started training volunteers who will help those in need find social services such as housing.

“Two years ago we had 58 volunteers doing that for six months to connect people with resources and that makes a big difference,” says Ramsey.

At the moment they are working to expand their volunteer base and are preparing for the 11th July launch.

“It’s really a community issue around this issue, which is great,” Ramsey said.

LEX 18 reached out to Gill’s apartment complex. A regional manager said in an email that they are happy to accept housing assistance funds, but did not say whether they will accept his.

Unfortunately for Gill, he’ll just have to wait and see what happens. However, he expects compassion and a second chance that will help him get back on his feet and get back into his music.

Contact the Catholic Action Center if you want to help as a volunteer.

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